Thursday, October 22, 2015

time to flourish: a theology of time management

The day lies open before me. It is gift, waiting to unwrapped.

How to fill it?

Appointments – these include the requests from outside to meet, greet, complain, engage. Each of these reach out to fill my day.  When I think of appointments, I also include my to do list. As it lies open before me, it is also making appointments, marking my diary not with “Meeting” but with “Complete marking schedule.”

Crisis – something unexpected might happen. I recall days that have been consumed by funding crisis or relationship breakdown. The adrenaline surges and the crisis engulfs.

Routine – the comfort of habit. I settle today in what I did yesterday. Yet if I am honest, what I did yesterday was what I did last week, last month, last month, last decade. There is security in this, the rhythm of routine. But do I want my gravestone to be titled “lived by habit.”

Flourish – Psalm 1, the lectionary reading for today, suggests another approach. In verse 3

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

Which got me thinking about the shape of flourishing. I suspect what it means for me to flourish might be different from what it means for you to flourish. My role, my skills, my context, invite a particular set of fruit.

The Psalm mentions not only fruit, but leaves.  Like fruit, leaves also are particular, shaped by seasons. Again comes the reminder that my season is different than your season. So to flourish, in fruit and foliage, is unique, an individual fingerprint.

This requires some work, some intentionality. What might my fruit be? I began to journal, a rough draft. A flourishing Principal will

  • ensure continuous quality improvement in learning and forming
  • be careful, competent, yet creative with resources (buildings, people, systems)
  • connect with stakeholders in ways that serve the church of tomorrow
  • think (research and write) in ways that take the organisation they serve back to the future

In doing this work, I find that the gift that is my day now has some shape. It might well be expressed in appointments, in responding to crisis, in routine. But my day, my time mangement, is now  more that the sum of its parts.  To grow fruit takes time. The deliberate application of fertiliser, the careful pruning, the commitment to thin appropriately. And so the gift of today is now shaped – by what it means for me and my organisation to flourish.

Posted by steve at 07:04 AM

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

“It takes a church to raise a minister.” Discuss

Today at our first staff meeting as a KCML (Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership) team, I began with a statement for ongoing discussion.

I pointed out how, given our recent move across the ditch, our endings and beginnings, how acutely aware we were of relationships. This is well-captured in the saying – it takes a village to raise a child. Healthy communities offer a wide range of relationships, which at all sorts of different levels, can contribute to growth. That’s the positive take. Equally, unhealthy communities offer a range of relationships, which, because of their lack, or because of their bite, can contribute to decline.

Pondering relationships, their fragility and vitality, I began to wonder if the proverb – it takes a village to raise a child could be applied to forming ministers. Is it that it takes a church to raise a minister? If so, what are the implications for us at KCML?

So today, at our team meeting, I introduced the statement. I invited discussion by offering one Biblical character (not telling who :)). Together as a team we had a very fruitful and rich conversation, one shaped by Scripture and placed alongside a set of living case studies, one that enabled all the team to contribute, one that led naturally into prayer and our business together.

As a result, we decided that in the coming weeks, we would keep exploring the question. We will take turns, each week, to bring a Biblical character or person in history. And we’ll see where the conversation goes, and what it might mean for us, for ministers and for the church.

Feel free to join us

1. What Biblical character or person in history would you introduce?
2. What insight might they bring to the statement – it takes a church to raise a minister?
3. What might be the implications today – for churches, for theological colleges, for ministers and those training and those considering training?

(in the comments)

Posted by steve at 01:44 PM

Thursday, October 01, 2015


sunset Today we leave Australia, after nearly 6 years of placement with the South Australian Synod of the Uniting Church of Australia. First, as the founding Director of Missiology. It was such a gift to be invited to provide leadership in mission in what was a new venture for the College, seeking to teach theology and church history through the lens of the mission of God. Over 2 and a half years, a new Bachelor of Ministry was developed, including a pioneer track. A missional masters cohort was established and mission-shaped ministry begun.

Second, as Principal of Uniting College. Over 3 years, as a team, a wide range of changes were implemented. These included a move to blended learning across all our topics, a CALD teaching cohort, a Big Year Out young adult discipleship experience, 8 vocational specialisations in the Diploma of Ministry, a Chaplaincy Co-ordinator, a much improved financial and strategic position, a re-negotiated relationship with Flinders University and the planting of an inter-state hub. Much of my learnings from this season are being processed in the upcoming book, Built for change: Innovation and Collaboration in leadership.

empty office Yesterday once the packers had emptied my office, removed every last book, file and paper clip, I walked the outdoor labyrinth for the last time. It was in the labyrinth that the call to be Principal had sounded – literally. So it somehow felt fitting that the call to be Principal should end in the labyrinth as, office empty, I took time to process – Solvitur Ambulando “It is solved by walking”.

There was nothing profound. Just a deep sense of gratitude. That the God who calls, provides. That the twists and turns of life are in God’s hands. That all I need to do is take the next step. In this case, onto an airplane, and into a new season, as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership.

Posted by steve at 01:25 AM

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Built for change: Innovation and collaboration in leadership book contract


I was delighted last week to sign a book contract with Mediacom for what will be my second book, tentatively titled “Built for change: innovation and collaboration in leadership.”

It will be a book about innovation. There are many books of theory about innovation and many books from overseas about leadership. (Hence I deliberately sought out a local ie Australasian publisher). I want to write a book that emerges from a context of reality, from a real life situation of change. (Mainly the last three years as Principal of Uniting College). I want to provide some practical stories of change and then consider them, first with the wisdom of hindsight, second with the theological probing that is the gift of the Christian tradition.

I hope the book offers an understanding of change that is both practical and possible, in ways that celebrate collaboration, enhance equality and make access possible.

It is a project I’ve been mulling over for the last few months. My first days writing in June is described here. As I processed the shape of the project over two days in July with my supervisor, I asked myself “Why write?.”

Posted by steve at 10:23 PM

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Creative renewal through action

I’m speaking this Friday, 6 pm, 31 July, Burnside Uniting Church. Here’s the blurb

Rev Dr Steve Taylor is a world leader in missional thinking and sadly is leaving Australia to return to New Zealand in August (September actually) this year. We are indeed very fortunate Steve has agreed to lead our next metro Gathering teaching sessions.

Creative renewal is only possible through action. What actions lead to renewal?

I will be reflecting on leadership lessons from my years as Principal at Uniting College and offering some reflection on the Uniting church into the future. (If I can find the words. I’m still quite unclear on how I want to say what I want to say.)

Posted by steve at 10:14 PM

Friday, July 03, 2015

Why write?

Today is a second day of study leave, a few days in which I am seeking to write about, and reflect upon, my learnings in leadership from recent years of ministry.

bluemountains I am in the Blue Mountains, surrounded by bush and quiet. I am staying with my supervisor, who continues his delightful ministry of naming reality, asking provocative questions, helping me circle around my worlds, both inner and outer.

The Old Testament lectionary reading for today, and in particular four phrases, proves strangely clarifying.

I will stand at my watch-post
Write the vision
Make it plain
So that a runner may read it.

Let me explore these phrases from the bottom back up to the top.

I write for a person. A runner. For individuals and teams, whether wondering, willing, or wanting, running the journey of innovate. I write that they might run sustainably, strategically. I want to offer them some signs that point to processes of innovation that have reality, integrity, creativity and a deep compassion and care for people and places.

I write with a purpose. I seek to avoid fancy words, clever theories and quick quotes from leadership heroes. Instead, with honesty and integrity, I want to make as plain as possible the real life learnings from innovation. I want to share stories that offer hope. Organisations do change. People do grow. Resources can be aligned. Access can be enhanced.

I write by choosing to stand at the watchpost. Rather than look forward, rather than theorise, I choose to look back, to particularise. In standing, I find myself slowing and as I slow, I feel once again the particular emotions, demands and experiences of leading an organisation in a complex system in a rapidly changing world. It is hard to stand. It is hard to lead. It is costly to innovate. Yet such is the place from which these words, these leadership learnings, must emerge.

I stand.

Posted by steve at 10:31 AM

Monday, June 22, 2015

lightbulbs and 10 year olds: innovation and communication.

I was shown this image on Friday. It was suggested as a summary of some group work that I was a part of.


A lightbulb has gone off. An important and significant discovery has been made. But that is not enough. We need to think about how to communicate that lightbulb moment.

In this image, this means getting down the ladder and going across to the watching child. We need to ask ourselves “How would we tell a 10 year old?” This is an important communication exercise, in which seek to clarify our ideas by asking how we communicate this light bulb moment to a 10 year old.

There is that old joke. How many people does it take to change a light bulb? The answer is meant to be one.

But how realistic is that? It is hard for one person to do, most especially for the person closest to the lightbulb. It is their idea and its natural to be blinded by the brilliance.

So in this image, and in the work on Friday, a number of us were working together. Some were offering creativity, others listening ears, others structuring and framing. It adds an interesting perspective on the task of innovation. It is not enough to have a bright idea. There is another whole piece around communication and collaboration of that idea. Innovation must be shared. It might begin with one, but there are many gifts involved in this process.

Who is the leader in this description? Is it the one person who has had the “lightbulb” moment? Is it the child, who is providing an essential role in helping clarify? Is it the people around, encouraging, listening, reframing?

In reality each person is performing an essential role. Each person is offering leadership. Because it does take many people to change a lightbulb.

Posted by steve at 08:12 AM

Friday, June 05, 2015

We’re built for change

In just under four months, I conclude as Principal of Uniting College and shift countries to begin as Principal of Knox Centre for Ministry and Leadership. This has a lot of implications personally and professionally.

Professionally, I lead a team of 17 people. An essential dimension of my leadership includes helping them process transitions. This means that a challenge of the next few months includes helping them process my transition.

It is always more complicated leading your own transition. It is tempting to envisage working until the last day, closing the door and slipping out, leaving behind a to do list for the incoming. But that would be remiss of my leadership not to include this personal focus. It would point to a set of values that sit in opposition to a culture of communal innovation. It would work against a culture “built for change.”

So I have spent a number of months with my supervisor and line manager thinking through how to lead through this particular transition.

Yesterday I initiated with the team a conversation about the transition. Let me tell you what I did and what emerged. But first, let me share with you the structures that influence the timing. (more…)

Posted by steve at 01:16 PM

Sunday, May 31, 2015

leadership formation: an indigenous experiment in oral learning

I have been working with a group of indigenous ministers over the last 6 months, praying about what Aboriginal leadership development might look like amongst the Aboriginal churches in Adelaide. This week we participated in the following learning experiment.

indigenous leadership welcome

First, welcome. We begin with worship, with song written by a gifted, local, indigenous leader.

indigenous leadership Bible

Second, Biblical immersion. We hear the Scripture. We hear again, tracing the Scripture onto our hands. We hear the Scripture for a third time, drawing the Scripture onto a blank hand. Together, using ears, hands, eyes, we immerse ourselves in ancient story. The hope is that this bypasses writing and text. It returns us to the Scriptures as aural. This connects with those who have highly developed skills in ways of learning other than Western.

indigenous leadership questions

Third, working with the story. In Adnyamathanha culture, we learn from a story by asking three questions. What is the rule for living? What does this tell us about the environment? What do we learn about the supernatural? We apply these indigenous questions, asking each other what we learn about God, about ministry, about life? The discussion is rich.

indigenous leadership next

Fourth, we hear the story again. Each of us are given a blank hand, which we hold. The immersion in Scripture, the discussion together, is gathered into a single question on a single blank hand. We ask ourselves – what do I most need to learn from this story? Who can I learn from?

This is our homework. We will connect our learning journey with our wider community. Next time we gather, we will come enriched by the wisdom of our ancestors. This will become our “assessment.” We will re-tell the story, enriched both by our discussion together and our seeking out of wisdom from our wider community.

All done, not by privileging books, but “living libraries” – us and others.

Posted by steve at 04:10 PM

Monday, May 18, 2015

growing leaders by growing teachers

Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!

Uniting College exists to grow life-long disciples and develop effective leaders in mission. In order to do that, we must begin by growing ourselves. This includes our skills and abilities as teachers.

Here’s one way this process works for us at Uniting College. Most higher education involves student evaluations. These are completed by students. The results are summarised and provided back to lecturers. Generally this is where the process stops. The feedback is useful. But what happens next? How do you encourage intentional growth as teachers?

First, along with the student evaluations, each lecturer is also provided with a response sheet, which they are invited to fill in. It has four questions.

  • Summarise the positive responses
  • What concerns did students raise about their learning in this unit?
  • What improvements will you make to address these concerns?
  • Any other comments or quality improvements for unit curriculum, teaching and learning?

Four simple questions that invite us as teachers into appreciative inquiry and to think more intentionally about how we can grow as teachers. The four questions that can be answered as simply, or as deeply, as an individual wishes too. The questions invite us as teachers to think about growth. Lecturers are invite to return these to myself as Principal.

Second, I read them. I reply to each one. I affirm the strengths I see, celebrating the commitment to the skill and craft of teaching I see. I provide comment on the concerns raised, sometimes suggesting they are being too hard on themselves, sometimes inviting deeper reflection. I remark on the desired improvements, noting trends I am observing – themes that emerge across the range of topics an individual teaches. 

I am wanting to individualise and contextualise, to let each lecturer know I care about their craft of teaching. Some of these emails replies are over two pages in length, as I engage with their desire for growth.

Third, all these individual email responses that I make to lecturers are de-identified and summarised. This report goes to our Ministry Studies meeting. As an entire teaching team, we consider the report. It is a snapshot of our collective strengths as a teaching team. It is a mirror on potential areas for growth. Together we wonder what we might do as shared and appropriate professional development.

Fourth, this information is fed back to students. They who have taken the time to provide feedback, are informed about actions that are being taken as a result of their feedback. We hope it encourages them by saying something about our commitment to grow as teachers.

It was this process that took up a good deal of my time today. It was this process that generated the comment with which I started this post; “Now I know they will be read, I’ll do a better job!” Because growing leaders begins by growing teachers.

Posted by steve at 09:25 PM

Friday, March 27, 2015

developing a bottom up vision statement

On Tuesday, I was in a group in which the purpose question was asked:  “What is the purpose of your organisation?”  The whole question of why an organisation exists is crucial. It provides clarity. It allows you to say yes to things and no to things. It provides motivation.

At our team meeting on Thursday, I decided to take the story from Tuesday, tell it and ask the question of the team.  “What is the purpose of our organisation?”   In our case, we’re a theological college. We are in a re-building team phase, with at least four folk new in the last few months. So the question would not only provide clarity, guidance and motivation. It would also help with team building and re-building.

In order to resource the conversation, I used the Signposts resource.


It involves a whole range of pictures, printed on card, with a few phrases. It’s visual and tactile.  I spread them around the room and invited the team out of their seat and to each find a card that they felt answered the question – What is the purpose of a theological College?  Returning to our seats, we each shared our cards.


I then offered two options. (We normally set aside 30 minutes in our team meeting for devotion and community time,).  One option was to share with each other a moment recently when we had seen our card in action. This took the ideal of why we exist and located it in our life as a group. It allowed for encouragement.

The other option was that everyone was asked to leave their cards on the table. And if folk wanted, they could try and find a sentence that wove together all of the cards.  This was a far harder option and I wasn’t sure if there would be any takers, let alone any success.

But I was amazed, within 15 minutes, the group reported back they had a sentence. Within 30 minutes, with the help of one question (What is our purpose?) and a set of visuals, we had developed, from the bottom up, with the input of every voice in the team, a rough vision statement.

Posted by steve at 05:38 PM

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

engaging innovation in cultural change

As a Uniting College, we have a number of innovation projects that this year are moving from dream to reality.

We have a Certificate in Bible and Leadership for English as a Second Language. This began as a dream at the start of last year. Funding was obtained and by the middle of the year, a person appointed. After research and networking, at the start of this year they offered a trial topic. Seven students, from six different nationalities have begun.

We have a Big Year Out, designed to grow young adults in ministry and mission. Last year it was touch and go, with four students and a lot of learning. This year we have seven students and a much clearer idea of where we are going.

We have a Diploma of Ministry, with a specialisation in chaplaincy. This began back as a spark late in 2012 and since then we’ve offered an annual topic in the Theology and Practice of Chaplaincy. This year we’re about to graduate our first student, who has completed the entire course by distance, from New South Wales. It’s a great story of an innovation becoming a reality.

Together, these programmes are changing the shape of our student cohort. It is younger, more multi-cultural with a greater breadth in conversation, vocation and passion.

Each of these areas are led by a dedicated and gifted leader. They are part-time, so there is a risk of a sense of isolation from the wider Uniting College team. So as part of our team retreat this year, I designed a process that would help the team connect with these parts of our life.

Here’s what I suggested. That each of these dedicated and gifted leaders share, for around 25-30 minutes each. First, in 10 minutes, the individual share with the team

  • 3 challenges they face in implementing their role in 2015
  • 2 things they most need from the team
  • 1 question they don’t currently know the answer too

Second, in 15 minutes the team respond to the one question. Whether in groups or as a whole group, we as a team offer our good minds in working with the challenges these innovations face.  My hope was that as a result of this process, we as a team would be better informed, that individuals would feel heard and supported and that from the brainstorming some constructive ideas might emerge.

The process worked well.  The energy in the room went right up. The discussion was deep, rich and engaging.

But the next day, something unexpected happened.  We were discussing our team values and someone piped up. “We need to add take risk and celebrate failure. You see, we’ve got all these innovations happening and one way to support them is to be willing to risk and learn in our journey together.”  And around the room, the team nodded.

It was a lovely moment to watch. I don’t know many theological colleges that have risk and fail in their team values. One of my goals in becoming Principal was to increase the innovative capacity of the organisation and here it was emerging so spontaneously and naturally, from the team, not me.  Engaging innovation was resulting in cultural change. Simply by creating processes to listen and reflect.

Posted by steve at 09:01 PM

Thursday, March 12, 2015

minding the gap in team formation

Minding the gap can build teams and form cultures. Let me tell you what happened, then unpack the learnings.

It began yesterday during chapel. The reader of the Gospel reading missed some words. Instead of

For God so loved the world
that he gave his one and only Son
that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

the reader initially offered us

For God so loved the world

that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)

Realising the gap, the reader quickly, and appropriately, corrected themselves.

The missing words got me thinking. Those 8 words. What would it mean if they were not just missing, but actually absent. What type of faith would we have if those words were not in the Bible? What type of life might be lived, if there really was no “that he gave his one and only Son”?

To put it another way. Christ-centred is one of the core values of Uniting College. So, if we as a College had no Christ, would it make any tangible difference to life, to our teaching and the way we treat each other?

I decided to make this the focus of our team devotions today. It would offer a continuity with what was a great chapel. It would allow us to explore a core value. In addition, we also have four folk new to our team in the last 3 months. So this conversation might enable them to be drawn more deeply into our team culture.

So I began the devotion, by pointing out the gap. I’d produced the words, the complete verse and the verse with the words missing, on a sheet of paper for folk to hold and handle. In pairs I invited them to reflect on what happened if those words went missing and on whether faith would be different. Each pair fed back, ensuring a shared voice across the team. And then together as a whole group, I asked if the presence of Jesus does in any way affect our workplace.

The conversation was excellent, animated and intense. A newcomer observed that the missing 8 words spoke of love. And her experience of our workplace was of nurture. Which could only come from love. So yes, Jesus obviously was important. Another noted that these words were an invitation, not an imposition. So our commitment to Christ could be done in way in which faith need not be forced. Others noted they had no interest in teaching leadership without Christ and that without Jesus, homiletics was simply motivational speaking. Which they were not in the least interested in teaching. So yes, Jesus was important.

So what did I learn about team formation?

  • First, that the most effective teaching tool can be a question. In this case “do those missing words matter?”
  • Second, that observation can open up significant learning.  In this case one simple observation – of 8 missing words; followed by the question -  resulted in an excellent collaborative discussion.
  • Third, that those new to a team, as they find their voice, can add important richness and perspective to a team discussion.
  • Fourth, that team culture is never static. It requires constant work. Tonight, the Uniting College team culture is richer than it was this morning. Because I minded the gap.
Posted by steve at 09:09 PM

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Worth coming for the creative resources alone

“It’s worth coming for the creative resources alone,” said a happy punter as they tucked the order of worship into their bag. Yesterday we kicked off at Uniting College another year of Leadership Formation Days.

These aim to build community among individuals on the journey to ordination. So yesterday in small groups and with the aid of colour chips of paint, relationships were built.

They invite reflection on the practice of ministry. So yesterday input on Pauline spirituality and adaptive leadership in resource poor congregations. A rich, deep study of how Paul’s spirituality of ministry connected with the work of Heifetz (Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading), and provided richness for ministers in aging congregations.

They provide prayer and worship – in ways that are “worth coming for the creative resources alone.” So yesterday praise, for the generations before who had formed us, and intercession, for the generations we are involved in forming.


Names written on yellow and orange post-it notes, placed around the edge of the communion table. On which some godly play around the lectionary text was done, the giving of the 10 commandments. On which the communion elements, bread and wine were shared.


They share stories, in order to build our ability to work with the living documents that are the lives of people. So yesterday, two stories of the journey to ministry and the journey in ministry. A few tears, as redemption was enfleshed.

Posted by steve at 07:42 AM